As all great photographers do, Richard Buswell disrupts our normal vision. His photographs of commonplace objects, absent their typical surroundings, interfere with our comprehension, forcing us to look again. His stark, apparently simple images help us penetrate the superficial appearance of objects from Montana’s past to contemplate the multiple, complex meanings that their histories and presence convey. And, perhaps, stir us to consider the things we will leave behind.
This exhibition presents a new body of work by fourth-generation Montana photographer Richard Buswell. Buswell has been photographing Montana settlement sites, ghost towns and frontier homesteads for over forty years, and the present collection of photographs displays his evolving relationship with his subject. Increasingly abstract and ethereal, Buswell has exhibited internationally and his work is included in the collections of the Smithsonian American Art Museum; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Corcoran Gallery of Art; the George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film; Baltimore Museum of Art; Brooklyn Museum of Art; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Fogg Art Museum at Harvard University; Library of Congress; Detroit Institute of Arts; Yale University Art Gallery; High Museum of Art, Atlanta; Denver Art Museum; Seattle Art Museum, and Montana Museum of Art & Culture.
Credit: Exhibition overview from museum website.
Whether or not you go, What They Left Behind: Photographs tells the story of Richard S. Buswell who, more than forty years ago, chose the relics of Montana’s past as his raw material. Over time, in five books, he has sharpened his focus, moving from panoramic vistas of abandoned buildings to meticulously composed, tightly framed depictions of natural and man-made objects against stark black backgrounds. He has shifted the viewer’s attention from his subjects to the form and structure of his pictures. Although rooted in Buswell’s experience as a lifelong Montanan, the photographs in this book are no more (or less) “about” Montana than James Joyce’s Dubliners, Portrait of an Artist, or Ulysses are “about” Dublin.
Most books about Western ghost towns and historical artifacts abound in sentiment. They comfort us with the illusion that we can recover what has been lost. What They Left Behind reminds us that time carries us onward despite our wishes to remain in the past.